Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Highest Science by: Gareth Roberts: Doctor Who and the Space Turtles

To begin this review I am writing this short preface to just give a little sneak peek so to say on what exactly to expect from The Highest Science, mainly its secondary villains, summed up nicely into three very simple words.  The words go thusly: Cyborg Space Turtles.  Now if you have been following these reviews you will know that I despised Transit and I felt that these novels would go in this direction of making it really adult unnecessarily.  So imagine the jarring transition when Gareth Roberts introduces the Chelonians, or as I like to call them Cyborg Space Turtles, who are hilarious, has the guts to have a prophecy be written in the lyrics of a song mainly listened to by hippies, a disappearing planet, and the twist of The Hand of Fear.  Seriously Roberts goes crazy pulling off all the crazy to Douglas Adams levels of hilarity and only about half of it is played for comedy.  Oh and he puts the Doctor into a situation where he isn’t in control.  With this amount of crazy in the novel there will be at least something that you will find funny or at least enjoyable.


Now some of the problems that the writings of Douglas Adams is a lackluster plot and Roberts falls into this trap quite a bit.  It starts out promising enough with the Prologue and first couple chapters introducing four factions of characters.  First there are the Chelonians who have a really interesting culture as some of them are trying to give birth, but it begins to fail.  Second there are the cyber punk rocker hippies who believe a song shows what is going to happen on the planet while on brain-melting drugs.  Third there is Sheldukher who is the most dangerous criminal in the galaxy and fourth there is a group of humans from Earth in the 1990s.  What Roberts does best is keep these four factions distinct with different speech patterns and personalities.  This keeps most of them interesting, but some of them are just too bland to be very interesting.  The most interesting group is Sheldukher’s party as it is made up of criminals and a depressed organic supercomputer, the Cell.  Sheldukher isn’t very interesting as he is your typical loud mouthed crazy villain a la all the characters played by Stephen Thorne.


And of course the Doctor and Benny have to come in the story.  Basically the Doctor is tracking a time disturbance called a Fortean Flicker and catastrophe will strike if the flicker isn’t stopped.  They track it to the planet Sakkrat home of the Highest Science where all four parties are intersecting in the rest of the story’s plot.  The Doctor isn’t really in control throughout the story as the Flicker has an unpredictable nature so is the perfect villain for the Seventh Doctor.  My problem with this is that Roberts has him played as an earlier version of the character akin to Season 25.  Roberts does however completely understand the character of Bernice Summerfield as she was introduced in Love and War.  She is sarcastic and won’t take any talk back and has a wit to match the Doctor’s.  Their scenes are great together and are the best things about the story.  When she isn’t with the Doctor she is with the group of hippie-rocker faction.  Here she accidentally gets high off of an extremely powerful hallucinogen which is LSD combined with cocaine.  These bits are extremely hilarious as Benny’s brain starts to turn into goop and the Doctor has to use a Metabelis Crystal to fix her mind.  The Cell is probably the most interesting supporting the character as it is so depressed and determined to commit suicide it would go so far as to plan three years to get its chance.


Now if those were the best things about the story, the actual plot lets it down as near the middle it becomes a jumbled mess.  You can cut out the stuff with the people from 1990s Earth and probably get rid of some of the things with the Chelonians to a minimum.  Also the twist is just a poor copy of the twist of The Hand of Fear where everything is revealed to be a trap to capture Eldrad/Sheldukher.  It of course works and the story just stops with a nice Epilogue about Benny being cured of her drug ailments which has some poignant comments on some of the motivation of the guy who started this whole mess to begin with.  Everything is jumbled together and the twist you can see coming from miles away.  I really am forced to give the novel 65/100, but I still recommend it as the story is a great medication after the whole mess of Transit.  It is also much better than some of Roberts’ TV work on Doctor Who.

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